The mid-summer sun beat down on the back of my 8 year-old little neck while the wind blew my bangs into my eyes. I tried to gasp in a breath as we whipped around the corner and began the chug-chug-chug up the first hill. My dad leaned down close to my ear and gave my knee a reassuring pat.
“Are you ready?,” he shouted over the din of the motor. And suddenly, I wasn’t sure. I had been waiting for this exact moment for three years, and now I was overwhelmed with the excitement, adrenaline and panic coursing through my entire body.
It was 1984, and I was riding a roller coaster for the first time. And not just any coaster – I was riding The Beast at Kings Island, about 10 minutes from my childhood home. Built in the 70s, the Beast is still famous for being the longest wooden coaster, weaving through 40 acres of woods, diving into underground tunnels and ending the four-plus minute ride with a sideways double helix.
Every year my older brothers regaled me with stories of being shot into darkness at the bottom of the first hill and feeling like they were going to fall out of the car as it flipped on its side at the end. Meanwhile, I was stuck on “The Beastie” in Kiddieland. But this was my year; I was finally tall enough to ride the real rides.
After waiting in line for what seemed like hours amidst an internal cocktail of boredom and anxiety, I jumped into the seat and grabbed the bar in front of me. The coaster took off with a jerk. As my dad smiled down at me I could see his own excitement about sharing this first with me.
Are you ready? A roller coaster simplifies that question. Whether I was ready or not no longer actually mattered. I was on this ride for good or bad. As we approached the top of the hill my dad shouted with the zeal of a kid, “Here we go!” I caught his excitement and screamed as we took off.
Since that day I’ve had a number of “Beast” moments in my life, times in which I was facing something both scary and exhilarating. Moving away from home to go to college. My wedding day. My first real job. The birth of my first child. And countless smaller moments between the big milestones.
And when I notice that panic-excitement mix wash over me, I frequently imagine my dad’s voice whispering in my ear, “Are you ready?” And sometimes I’m not. But then I remember that pat on my knee and his look of pride.
I dig deep below my fear in search of the brave girl who’s still underneath and the spirit of adventure that got me on this ride in the first place.
I know I’m lucky to have a dad like this, and I don’t take it for granted. My dad’s love helped me believe in God’s love. I spend a lot of time with folks whose human fathers are like a shade blocking the light of God’s character and love for them. My dad was like a glass that illuminated and helped me see God’s love even more.
And so when I am terrified of what’s over the hill or next corner in my life, my dad’s example makes it a little easier to imagine God sitting next to me. Maybe God even reaches over and with a pat on my knee asks, “Are you ready?” And I’m probably not. But somehow God’s presence and gentle touch makes me a little more brave.
Right now I am in the midst of another Beast moment in my life. After years of dreaming about it, my husband and I are opening a counseling practice together. We took the leap and got a loan, bought a building and quit our regular jobs. Just like the Beast, I’ve been waiting for this moment for years – imagining and preparing for it. We open in one week, and it’s like I’m in the car chugging up that first hill of the Beast. Am I ready?
I’m hoping it will be just like my first ride. Before I can even answer I’ll be whipped over the first hill, my chest burning with adrenaline and fear and excitement all mixed into one. I will barely catch my breath through the ride, and just like that we will be pulling around the corner back to the start. And with my heart still racing I will turn and say, “Can we ride again?”
Here’s to embracing the Beast moments in our lives.
p.s. I’m cross-posting this blog on our new practice website. I’d love if you want to check out our team and what we are doing! www.rootscounselingcenter.com